The Little Dog Laughed
By Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Michael Baron
Produced by Signature Theatre
Reviewed by Gary McMillan
Signature’s The Little Dog Laughed is a sparkling tonic for the winter blahs. Douglas Carter Beane is a sly little dog of a playwright who has tossed together several plot lines which should feel tired, but instead are refreshingly funny. This is largely due to the razor wit and “take no prisoners” determination of talent agent Diane (Holly Twyford), a character who does for agents what Hildegard Johnson did for reporters. She does seem to be the only character who is actually listening to the others — they’re just all wrong. Foremost, she has unwavering confidence that her client Mitchell (who suffers from “a slight recurring case of homosexuality”) is but a hair’s breadth from major motion-picture stardom if he’ll only lock the closet door and stay inside. And in a mere two hours time, you’ll be convinced that when it comes to tough-minded negotiation and outright social engineering, the lady is at the top of her game. Guy Lee Bailey has dressed Diane in a variety of styles, using some eye-popping, dazzling solid colors for blouses, jackets and accessories, with his own variation on the pin-striped suit as well.
Although the show opens with Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo) nabbing an acting award, his demeanor is more consistent with that of a conventionally handsome “leading man” (Dash Riprock and Bolt Upright come to mind) than of a serious actor. He’s sweet but definitely a bit befuddled, both self-absorbed and endearingly naïve at times. Montelongo is gorgeous and adorable in the role. He’s kept from being too perfect by a penchant for hotel mini-bars and male escorts who advertise on late-night TV.
Escort Alex (Ivan Quintanilla) and his girlfriend Ellen (Casie Platt) are a fine pair of hapless slackers. Going nowhere at age twenty-four. Alex makes a comfy living sleeping with men, apparently with some acting credentials of his own from satisfying his clients fantasies; Ellen is on the rebound from her much older boyfriend-benefactor, although happily she is still in possession of one of his credit cards. When Alex falls for Mitchell, Ellen is doubly dumped. She has her dark moods, poor dear, but she doesn’t languish long at the pity party when there is serious shopping to be done. They both are a quirky mix of sincerity and opportunism and the uncertainty about their motivations adds an interesting tension.
The plot twists and turns and just when all loose ends are neatly tied up through Diane’s handiwork, there’s room for still more surprises. Diane is merely not satisfied to get her way, she‘s a deal closer who insists that all parties acknowledge that they are happy with the outcome.
Lee Savage’s set design is bold and sleek with a central and two side platforms which facilitate director Michael Baron’s quick scene shifts, creating cinematic-like split screen action. One of the smartest set features is the elevator which opens directly into Mitchell’s suite. It makes for unexpected and hilarious comings and goings.
Holly Twyford clearly dominates the characters as she does the show. She’s deliciously duplicitous and almost dumbfounded at the gullibility of those with whom she does business. She’s shocked, shocked!, that anyone would make a business deal based on HER WORD. The Little Dog Laughed sparkles like an old-fashioned Capra, Cukor or Hawks screwball comedy whenever she takes the stage. I hate spoilers, so I won’t repeat any of the very many funny lines, except to note that as a very special bonus we finally find out what’s the only thing in life worth remembering. It will definitely be a comedy high point of 2009.
Running time: 2:00 with 1 intermission
When: Thru March 8. Tues & Wed at 7:30 pm; Thurs, Fri & Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 7 pm. Matinees: Sat & Sun at 2 pm.
Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA.
Tickets: $61 – $64.